Excellency, Ms. Grace Fu, Minister of Sustainability and the Environment,
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to join you at this important summit.
Let me express my appreciation to the Government of Singapore for its leadership on environmental issues and the National Environment Agency for organizing this summit.
This summit is an important milestone, and I congratulate the organizers for bringing leaders together to identify opportunities and solutions.
As I am certain all of you know, in 2019, the Asia-Pacific region transitioned to a majority urban region. We are now home to roughly 60 per cent of the world’s urban population.
Most of the world’s megacities are in our region, while many of the region’s intermediate and smaller cities are seeing rapid growth.
With another 1.3 billion people projected in Asian and Pacific cities by 2050, our future is decidedly urban. We must leverage the potential and innovation in cities to ensure a sustainable future, not just for our cities and urban areas but also for our environment.
How cities manage their growth and integrate recoveries and resilience strategies will be critical if we are to protect the region’s unique environment and achieve the ambitions of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
We know the adverse impacts of urbanization and the challenges our cities face: unplanned, unmanaged growth; inadequate infrastructure; poor solid waste management; traffic congestion; inabilities to provide basic services; and rising inequities among residents.
However, we must see our urban future not just in these challenges but through a much wider lens of opportunity.
Now is the time to urgently commit to Net-zero carbon cities as the target for urban areas across Asia and the Pacific, both to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and meet climate change’s challenge.
Opportunities exist across our region to transition our cities’ infrastructure and urban systems. We know that green buildings, for example, can be 50 per cent or more energy-efficient- this has been a hallmark of Singapore’s journey towards sustainability.
Solutions such as greening urban spaces to reduce heat islands, urban agriculture, vertical farming in buildings, and rain and water harvesting all have potential in cities across the region, allowing us to preserve resources and build resilience to climate change.
The challenges of climate and air pollution are closely related. Reliance on coal power, traffic congestion, agriculture burning, and industrial activities all contribute to poor air quality and also generate climate pollutants.
Transitions to renewable energy, smart mobility and public transit systems, sustainable agricultural mechanization and regulations coupled with clean industry technologies are all readily available solutions that must be upscaled across the region.
For our health, for our continued economic growth, and to ensure sustainable urban and rural communities, clean water is essential. We can overcome water scarcity and stress through innovations such as recycling of reclaimed wastewater and purification systems, such as Singapore has established, to increase the availability and sustainability of urban water supplies.
We must ensure water-efficient technologies are the standard in our buildings and industries. While planning our water needs, we must ensure that the urban-rural dynamics are considered to safeguard agriculture and ensure that water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure is available to all.
To address the issue of plastic pollution, we developed the Closing the Loop project to provide digital tools such as remote sensing to identify plastic hotspots in urban areas and prevent plastics from entering our urban waterways and finding their way to the ocean.
We also see partnerships and technologies being planned across the region to capture plastics flowing in rivers, such as a collection system for Indonesia’s Citarum River that is envisioned to remove up to 100 tonnes of waste per day and redirect it to recycling.
All of these solutions can be deployed in urban areas. The opportunities exist and can be effective elements of our transition, but we must accelerate actions. We also need to ensure that cities know how to deploy these solutions and follow clear pathways to sustainability.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
May I take this opportunity to refer to the Report on The Future of Asian and Pacific Cities report which was developed and launched in 2019 by ESCAP and partners (in partnership with UN-Habitat; the European Union; Asian Development Bank; Rockefeller Foundation; and Singapore’s Centre for Liveable Cities). The report identifies four priorities on which all cities must focus towards a sustainable future:
First, Planning. Cities must lay the foundations for the future through proper planning. They must strengthen their capacities and make the right decisions now to accommodate long-term growth.
To ensure that urban growth is inclusive, improves livelihoods and enhances the environment, cities must adopt inclusive planning processes.
Second, Resilience. Many of the region’s cities are extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, especially our many coastal communities. They must become more resilient through the adoption of nature-based infrastructure solutions and low-carbon development standards.
National governments and local authorities must work together to develop local climate actions and ensure they are part of national strategies to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement.
Third, Smart City Opportunities. As highlighted, technologies exist to make our cities more efficient and present tremendous potential for investment, green jobs, and developing people-centred smart city solutions.
We must foster the innovative capacities of cities, the region’s entrepreneurism and frontier technologies to make our cities more efficient while overcoming widening digital divides.
Finally, Finance. We know that there are wide infrastructure gaps, and the pandemic has diverted many resources away from infrastructure investments during the response.
Mobilizing investments in cities now will enable robust recoveries and help create sustainable communities that are prepared to meet the demands of future growth.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to highlight another opportunity for cities through the Voluntary National Reviews or VLRs
An Asia-Pacific Regional Guidelines for VLRs was developed by ESCAP and partners in 2020.
VLRs are a valuable tool to allow communities to monitor their progress towards the SDGs and their contributions to national strategies and actions for implementation of the 2030 Agenda.
Communities undertaking VLRs establish clear visions for localizing the SDGs and tracking their transitions to sustainability.
We all have a role in shaping urban growth and assuring the long-term sustainability of our communities. What we need now is to focus on the actions all of us can take forward to ensure the transition to safe, inclusive, resilient and sustainable cities reflected in the VLRs
We remain committed to working with all of you, and we look forward to future collaborations.
Thank you very much, and I wish you a very successful summit.